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John Deever

Hmmm ... in the last Maccio entry in red before the final paragraph, should the 2002 be repeated at the end? I think you want period after Bizbooks there, no? I only notice bc I'm reading carefully in an attempt to get my darned Zamboni back together and out of my living room!

Carol Saller

Aack! Thank you, John--I fixed it. I hope the Zamboni instructions had a better proofreader!

John Deever

I almost didn't say anything, bc wouldnt subverting a subversive make me ... a reactionary? A totalitarian? Can't have that -- I always enjoy your writing and your tips! Thanks, and now I'm off to return to "Stimulating Smallholder Investments in Sustainable Land Management: Overcoming Market, Policy, and Institutional Challenges." (Any tips on tons of complex equations created in Equation Editor dumped into Word files? I can't do the math, I just want to hand this off to the comp with as few equation & Symbol font gremlins as possible!) -John

Nancy Goll

Carol, I'm new to your blog, so forgive me if you've addressed this before. You mention you condone the flouting of style rules in certain cases. What's your thinking on how that consistency? I'm a big consistency freak. Cheers~


You ask "who thought up the idea of putting periods and commas inside the quotation marks"? Who indeed? This is a convention which I discovered recently (after 25 years as a writer, editor and publisher in the UK). I was commissioned to write a book by an American publisher who asked me to write things such as "This is a quotation." with the "." in quotes rather than "This is a quotation". with the "." outside.

I was told that this practice is encouraged by various august manuals of style. How, then, had I never noticed it before? I asked among some writer and copy editor friends and none of them had heard of this convention either. Further research reveals that this is a US/UK difference. American writers prefer punctuation inside quotations (this is called either "conventional" or "aesthetic" punctuation). In the UK we prefer punctuation outside quotations unless it forms a part of the quotation (this is called "logical punctuation").

In "Modern English Usage", Fowler rails against the American convention. He says, "The conventional system flouts common sense, and it is not easy for the plain man to see what merit it is supposed to have to outweigh that defect."

I must admit that I tend to agree. I don't lose sleep over the punctuation which my American publisher insists that I put into quotations. Even so, I don't like it. As Fowler says, I really can't see the sense in it.

Carol Saller

Welcome, Nancy, and thanks for the question. When you break a style rule, you can break it consistently--although I can think of times when I would tolerate inconsistency for a good reason.

This is a good idea for a post. I'll try to write more on it soon.

John Cowan

From what I understand, the "conventional" system (which applies only to periods and commas; all other punctuation marks are everywhere written using the "logical" system) arose in the days of hand typesetting, when the thin pieces of type metal that held a period or comma could easily get misaligned following the closing quotation mark.


It looks like part of what you are saying here is that complex rules make style look inconsistent. Such as in the case of the placement of dates in your examples, or the placement of punctuation in relation to quotes. (The complex UK rules can look inconsistent.)

In my work, manuscript peer reviewers often comment that our use of practice/practise is inconsistent and admonish our sloppiness. I guess they haven't opened many dictionaries.


I'm confused about why parentheses are used to enclose publication information in notes and not in the bibliography. I understand the alphabetizing difference. That makes total sense to me. But such a major change in format between a note and a bibliographic entry seems unnecessary. Can you explain why this is the convention?

Carol Saller

I cannot. I imagine that the bibliography form came first, and that parentheses were added to the note form because periods were counterproductive. So much of style is arbitrary, not logical (see first part of post). It's maddening, but that's why we need to keep our style guides at hand.


I actually prefer the parentheses because they separate the publication information. I'm a rare books curator, and in cataloging we generally use the parentheses. Sometimes, especially with manuscripts and early printed books, the publication (or production, for mss) information is sketchy. It helps to have a special little cubby in which to put everything one can find. I must admit that I usually use that form in bibliographies, perhaps because I've been using it in cataloging for so long. I am filling out Ph.D. applications right now, though, and am updating my publications list with the proper format.

Thanks for answering my inquiry, Carol. Happy New Year!

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